Mother Knows Best

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Rabbi Rami shares his views on the Alabama Fetal Heartbeat legislation.

I love to eat at Waffle House. I order the same meal every time: cheese omelette hold the toast (I am Celiac) and grits in a bowl. I enjoy the food, but I enjoy chatting my fellow diners even more.

The other day as I sat at the counter (the booths were taken), I found myself in a conversation about the Alabama Fetal Heartbeat bill banning abortions after six weeks without exception for rape or incest. My countermates made five points. Here is my response to each of them.

“As a Christian, I believe life begins at conception.”

First of all, Christianity isn’t monolithic on this: There are believing Christians who support a woman’s right to choose. Second, unless you are saying the United States is a Christian nation ruled by Christian ethics as your brand of Christianity understands them, why does being a Christian matter here at all?

My religion says that while life begins at conception, personhood begins when a baby takes its first breath upon delivery from the womb. This is in line with Genesis 2:7, where Adam isn’t called a person until he takes his first breath. If you pass a Christian law, you are violating the religious freedom of all American citizens who do not identify as your kind of Christian. Because religions disagree, the only American stance on abortion is to keep religion out of it. Let people decide according to their own religion rather than force them to adhere to your religion.

“I believe it is a freedom of religion issue when Christian doctors and nurses are forced to perform abortions against their religious beliefs.”

This is a real challenge. Doctors take an oath to do no harm. Doctors who refuse to perform abortions are doing no harm to the fetus, but may be causing the mother serious harm. I think that medical students should be clear about their beliefs and values and avoid those fields that would compromise them. I think doctors and medical professionals and even hospitals should openly publish what services will be denied to patients because of the religious beliefs of the medical staff.

Sadly, this won’t help women whose access to hospitals is limited to those that will deny them services. My solution here is to create an “underground railroad” helping women in need make it to hospitals that will serve their health and wellbeing. This will be all the more necessary as states outlaw a woman’s right to seek certain kinds of medical care outside the state in which they live.

“I believe life is sacred and abortion is murder, and doctors who perform abortions are murderers.”

If you believe that the fetus is a person, then of course you believe abortion is murder and doctors who perform abortion are murders. By this reasoning, so is the mother and anyone who conspires with the mother to commit murder. The fact that you aren’t willing to criminalize the entire conspiracy suggests that your commitment to abortion as murder isn’t all that sincere. Also your claim to believe in the sanctity of life is hollow unless you also oppose the death penalty and wars of aggression. And, if all life is sacred, why give precedence to the unborn rather than the born, namely the mother?

“I believe abortion should be banned after a baby’s heart beat is detected.”

I appreciate the passion kindled with reference to a baby’s heart, but the biological fact is that the heartbeat that is detected isn’t a heartbeat at all. There is no heart, only a clump of cells whose fluttering produces electrical signals we erroneously call a heartbeat. An actually human heart doesn’t develop until the 20th week of pregnancy. So if you want to go with an actual heartbeat, you’d have to wait at least twenty weeks rather than six.

If all life is sacred, why give precedence to the unborn rather than the born, namely the mother?

“I believe in the sacredness of life regardless of how it comes about, hence no exceptions for rape or incest.”

Given your starting principle regarding the sacredness of life, your position is logical and sound. Now the question is: How do you honor the sacredness of life after the baby is born? Does the sacredness of life obligate you to seeing to the welfare of mother and baby by insuring quality healthcare, education, food, housing, safe neighborhoods, etc.? Or do you really mean to say you believe in the sacredness of the fetus and the baby and its mother be damned?

“So what do you believe?”

I have four principles when it comes to this issue: First, mother knows best. I believe that abortion should be left up to the mother in consultation with her doctor and others to whom she may turn for guidance. Second, mother comes first. If we are forced to choose between the life and wellbeing of the unborn and the life and wellbeing of the mother, I side with the mother. It isn’t that her life is more sacred, but that her life is more connected. There may be other lives that depend upon her: other children, siblings, parents, friends, etc. Third, government knows worst. Turning pregnancy into a political issue opens the door for all kinds of horrors: If the government can outlaw abortion based on one set of ideas or religious beliefs, it can also mandate it based on another. Fourth, keep government out of religion and religion out of government. I wish Mr. Trump was as interested in building up the wall between church and state and he is in building one between the U.S. and Mexico.

“Bottom line: You want abortion on demand?”

No. Bottom line: I want respect for the mother on demand. Check please.

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